By Lieutenant (junior grade) Joey Seymour (USNR)
Certainly, taking the oath to serve was done with the intent to protect my country and be a part of something bigger than myself. Yet, for me, there’s a selfish part to serving as well. I do it for my son, Caleb. He was 5 days shy of his 1st birthday when I commissioned in 2014. The highlight of the day was having him there, although all he wanted to do was run around the flight deck of the USS Midway and play. He wasn’t sure what was going on, nor did he care. It was a large playground and he was surrounded by his entire family. As I’ve grown in my military career, Caleb has grown with me. He’s had to say goodbye to me when I’ve had to leave and been there to run into my arms when I got home. While he doesn’t fully understand what I do yet, he does know that I serve in the military, which is very important to me.
It had always been in the back of my mind to join the Navy. My father has always been a huge fan of naval history. Our home always had stacks of books on famous battles and ships. There were models of historic ships and planes everywhere. Yet, I always had a fear and an apprehension regarding my sexuality. What if I got in, was found out, and then kicked out? All that I would have worked for would have been for naught. I wanted to be able to serve, but to serve as my true self.
In the spring of 2012, I was asked to assist the civilian team operating the commissioning of the USS San Diego. A good friend of mine and classmate at the University of San Diego was the ship’s executive officer. He recommended me to the team and I was brought on board. During the process, I learned about becoming a direct commissioned officer. Even though Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was still being enforced, I figured I’d overcome my fear and go for it. Going for it wasn’t as easy as I thought. My application went up to 5 boards until I was finally selected. I think they got sick of seeing my name. Ironically, the board that convened right after DADT was repealed happened to be the one that selected me. Regardless, I was in and now I’d be able to serve openly and honestly.
November 1, 2014, aboard the deck of the USS Midway, I finally had realized my dream of joining the United States Navy. I had my husband, David, and my son by my side. Now came the realities of serving, having to leave and miss out on events in Caleb’s life.
My first annual training exercise took me to Direct Commissioned Officers Indoctrination Course (DCOIC) in Newport, RI. These two weeks would be the first time I had been away from Caleb for any length of time. The training just so happened to coincide with his very first day of preschool. I had a difficult time missing that milestone. However, I kept in mind, as I always do, so many service members have missed the birth of their child as well as other major milestones in their child(ren)’s life. It’s never fun, but it’s part of the job.
A few months later, I was sent overseas to Belgium to participate in a NATO exercise. It was an absolute thrill, but now, I was half way around the world from my son. My husband and I had to coordinate times to call, but the conversations were always a lot shorter than I had hoped. Another unfortunate element that was beginning to develop now that Caleb was well into his “terrible twos,” was his handling of emotions. Each time since the Belgium trip that I’ve had to go away, we’ve found that he acts up at school, picks fights, and whenever I call home becomes so overwhelmed with emotions that he runs around in circles and acts crazily. He’s happy to see and talk to me but he’s also pissed that I’m not home. David, like any other military spouse with a little one at home, has had to take on the burdens of me being gone, but each time has done so brilliantly. He comes from a military family as well. His grandfather retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Marines.
The Belgium exercise ended up causing our family to come to terms with another harsh reality that military families have to go through. On March 21, at 8 am, I was in the Brussels airport heading home after the NATO exercise. I arrived home and Caleb was ecstatic. All was back to normal in his world. After he had gone to bed, I had some trouble falling asleep. At 3 am, I rolled over and noticed a text from a shipmate who had traveled with me. She told me to check the news. At 8 am on March 22, exactly 24 hours after we had been in the airport, in the very same spot, it was bombed by terrorists. Thirty-two people were killed. If for any reason, we had been kept one more day, we could have been added to that list. I held Caleb a little tighter that day. Yet, my resolve in serving and doing my part became even stronger.
Since Belgium, I’ve had the opportunity to serve aboard the USS Detroit as part of their commissioning crew in Detroit and Canada, served as a watch stander in Naples, Italy, as part of a sixth fleet exercise, and returned to Newport, RI, on two occasions to provide media training. As a reservist, you commit to a minimum of 12 active days a year beyond your drill weekends. During my first three years, I’ve averaged 35 days a year. Again, it’s peanuts compared to the brave men and women on deployment who come home only to go back on deployment. Yet, now three years old, Caleb takes pride in the fact that his father is a United States sailor (and that he gets gifts from everywhere I go).
While preparing to write this blog, I was participating in an exercise and away from home. I spoke with several other fathers, inquiring as to how their kids handled them being gone. The stories were all pretty much in line with mine. One fellow officer told me that while on his last deployment, his daughter all of the sudden refused to FaceTime with him. She wanted to talk to “real Daddy” not “computer Daddy.” Ouch, was all I could think and hoped that Caleb would never feel that way. The other fathers spoke about the importance of serving as a role model for their child. Another fellow reserve officer is going through the adoption process with his husband and decided to go active duty to Afghanistan before they finalize an adoption to mitigate any chance of being deployed once they become fathers. A third just welcomed his baby girl to the world and is beginning to juggle his military life and fatherhood.
The constant theme for myself and other fathers serving in the military is that we do it for pride in country, but we also do it for pride from our children. So, I guess, it’s not that selfish after all. As he grows older, my hope is that Caleb’s pride in my serving our country only grows and his respect for David, who serves alongside me as a military spouse, is just as strong. That’s the greatest Father’s Day gift I can ask for. That and maybe the chance to sleep in on a Sunday morning.